Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless is arguably the least awful piece of his filmography that I have been forced to watch. Compared to Alphaville or Tout Va Bien, it's practically a masterpiece, but that's not saying much coming from this guy. Breathless is only slightly better on the grounds that it actually has a coherent story and some idea of what it's trying to be. Still, the movie is riddled with problems that completely destroy the experience. The editing is rediculous. When he was told it was too long, Godard couldn't be bothered to watch his own film to find out what needed to be cut, and instead just took out random segments (that's not genius, that's just laziness). Also, the soundtrack sounds more like it belongs in one of Connery's James Bond films than a serious crime narrative influenced by film noir.
The original script for this film was originally written by François Truffaut, and from what I've been told of his original plan it makes far more sense. Truffaut's original script was about a criminal on the run who finds refuge in a young woman's house while she slowly begins to sympathize and presumably fall in love with him. This seems like a decent idea for a crime thriller, and could potentially have worked. Unfortunately, Truffaut decided it would be a good idea to hand the script over to my constant arch-nemesis, Jean-Luc Godard. Once he got hold of the film, it turned into a ridiculous story about a dim-witted and unlikable criminal who ends up getting "unjustly" killed under perfectly justified circumstances.
The famous ending of the film involves this character, Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) getting shot by the cops and telling his girlfriend Patricia (Jean Seberg) that "you make me want to puke" before dying. The fact that he was shot is treated as an injustice, despite the fact that there was no reason it wasn't justified and the only reason it happened was because Michel is an idiot. He was ready to turn himself into the authorities at this point in the story, only for one of his criminal partners to hand him a gun. Michel specifically said he didn't want the gun and there was no reason he had to take it. The gun was thrown onto the ground, Michel could have completely ignored it, especially as he explicitly said he didn't want it.
Instead, he picked up the gun, and by this point the cops already knew he was dangerous, so they shot him. That's not injustice. It's standard police procedure. If you pick up a loaded gun off the ground and you have no license to do so, especially if you've already murdered a cop, they have the right to fire on you. If Michel had just ignored the gun and turned himself in he could have done his time in prison and everything would have been fine, but instead he did the stupid thing and got himself killed. In fact, the just nature of this supposedly "unjustified" shooting goes far beyond the final scenes of the movie.
The fact that Michel is a complete and total idiot is literally established in the very first scene when he starts playing with a revolver while driving a stolen car. There is no reason why he needs to have the gun out, but he just casually waves it around and starts pretending to fire it. I've never held a real gun in my life and even I can tell you that this is a very bad idea that could go wrong in so many ways. Furthermore, the moment a cop comes his way he shoots him, also a very stupid move. At the very least Michel could have tried to talk his way out. Generally when you've committed a crime and something has gone wrong, all that is accomplished by shooting a cop is that you make the situation a lot worse than it needs to be. Just ask the guys in Fargo.
Furthermore, Godard also forgets to actually give the viewer any real reason to sympathize with Michel. In the same early scenes in which he is established to be an idiot, he is also revealed to be a misogynist, making jokes about female drivers being "cowards" (and later commenting, while looting a girl's apartment, that "women have no money"). Writing sympathetic crooks is not always easy, but adding that he is both a misogynist and an idiot is really not helping Godard's case at all. There's also the fact that Michel doesn't seem to have much of a life outside of crime either, as he goes on to rob other people's homes and basically mug a few other people even when there's no real reason it is necessary. I'm totally siding with the cops here in wanting to see him put behind bars.
Then we get to the central conflict, where Michel (rather stupidly) shoots a cop, does absolutely nothing to dispose of the body or conceal any evidence against him, and (correctly) realizes he is in a large pile of trouble and needs to get out of town. A sensible criminal might try to get any remaining affairs in order as quickly as possible before getting out, but Michel does something different. Instead, he decides to invite Partricia (who has no knowledge of his criminal activity) with him to go to Rome. It's an unusual idea but there's no harm in asking, so he proposes it to her (while also buying a newspaper from her and then shoving it back in her face because it doesn't have a horoscope in it) and she doesn't agree to go with him. Now that should be the end of it, and after seeing her kissing another man that confirms with 100% certainty that she's not going to go to Rome with him, especially not when she has a stable job in Paris.
However, there is another side to this. Not only has he just given the police yet another crime to charge him with, but he also does so not to see Patricia, but just to have sex. He constantly tries to seduce her for a lengthy scene just depicting the two of them together in the apartment, in which all he really does is try to get her into bed with him (while occasionally stopping to try and call an acquaintance about the fact that, you know, he's on the run from the cops). Also, he completely lied to Patricia, and the only reason she found out that he is a crook was because a cop told her. So to put things into perspective, our lovable protagonist is a dangerous criminal, a murderer, a misogynist, a liar, and a pervert.
Yeah, if you ask me, I'd say she was very much in the right to turn him into the authorities. Putting it into perspective kinda removes the impact of Michel's "you make me want to puke" line at the end, doesn't it? He's a horrible person who pretty much deserved the comeuppance he got at the end. It wasn't a tragedy at all, it was justice, and it only happened the way it did because he was an idiot who could have easily gotten out of this mess if he had just gotten out of town when he had the chance (he could have just phoned Patricia when he got to Rome, this was the 60's, it's not like there was no way he would be able to reach her) or if he had just not fired on a cop before he even knew why he was being approached (for all we know, that cop could have just wanted to give him a ticket for speeding), or if he had not picked up the gun he specifically said he didn't want.
In any case, the whole movie completely goes against its own messages. Congratulations, Jean-Luc Godard, you have me totally rooting for the girlfriend you seem to want to depict as "traitorous" because she told the police about a dangerous criminal who literally broke into her home to have sex with her. There is absolutely nothing redeeming about this main character, nor is there anything "unjust" about his untimely demise. Breathless might actually have a coherent story compared to Alphaville or Tout Va Bien, but it is a poorly thought-out and absurd one, and whatever Godard intended to convey with this film, he presented precisely the opposite.